Earthquakes, Disasters and Protection

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Earthquakes, Disasters and Protection


In spite of the huge technical achievements of the last century – which have given
us skyscraper cities, fast and cheap air travel and instant global telecommunications,
as well as eradicating many major diseases and providing the potential
to feed our burgeoning population – over much of the world the threat of earthquakes
has remained untamed. As later chapters will show, the progress we have
made in reducing the global death toll from earthquakes is modest, and at the
beginning of the twenty-first century, we have become distressingly familiar with
tragic media images of the total devastation of towns, villages and human lives
caused by large earthquakes, for which their victims have been quite unprepared.

One possible reason for the lack of progress in saving lives from earthquakes
is that although they are among our oldest enemies, it is only in the last quarter of
the twentieth century that we have begun to understand how to protect ourselves
against them. From time to time in our history, parts of the earth have apparently
randomly been shaken violently by vast energy releases. Where these events have
occurred near human settlements, the destruction has been legendary. Tales of
destruction of ancient cities, like Troy in Greek mythology, and Taxila, have
been attributed to the power of the earthquake. In more recent memory the cities
of Messina in Italy, Tangshan in China, Tokyo and Kobe in Japan, and San
Francisco in the United States have all been devastated by massive earthquakes.
The apparent randomness of earthquakes, their lack of any visible cause and their
frightening destructiveness earned them over the centuries the status of divine
judgement. They were the instruments of displeasure of the Greek god Poseidon

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